a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

When Hebrew Israelites Invade!

Posted on: February 17, 2014

I’ve written about Hebrew Israelites before and while I generally think that writing about Messianic Jews and Hebrew Israelites  gives these communities unnecessary press, I do have to share something that happened to me at Friday night service.

I’ve mentioned before that my beloved shul’s music director has left. It’s thrown me into another and more unexpected shul shopping frenzy, but thankfully I’ve found an independent minyan in Brooklyn that meets once a month and it’s fabulous. I’m still searching for an alternative for the other three weeks, but for now, the services at Shir HaMaalot are doing an amazing job of fueling my spiritual soul.

Last Friday was my second experience at Shir HaMaalot and like the first time there were a couple JOCs present. I remembered a topic that came up at the JMN Parlor Meeting; what happens when you notice a JOC in your shul. The other JOCs in the room talked about that slightly awkward feeling of noticing another JOC-you want to go say hi, but realize that doing so could be weird for you and the other person. So to avoid that awkward interaction, especially at a Shabbat service, I tend to greet people the exact same way: “Shabbat Shalom!” If they respond with a Shabbat Shalom and continue wishing others the same greeting I move on. If we’re waiting for kiddush to start or in the case of Shir HaMaalot, waiting for dinner to start, I’ll introduce myself in a natural way.

Which is what happened on Friday.

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The Problem Isn’t Jen Caron…

Posted on: January 30, 2014

…or whatever her name is.

As an FYI I don’t think we should grab our pitch forks and burn her at the stake. And I promise not to make any jabs.

A few days ago the internets exploded when a self-described “skinny white girl” posted her inner most feelings about a “heavy black woman” at yoga. Since then, there have been brilliant responses, all of them are hilarious. You can read them here, here, here and here.

Of course, there have been serious responses as well, many of them addressing the issues of race, racism and privilege.

Yes, Jen has a lot of soul searching to do. I would suggest she find her way to an ashram to find her inner peace, but I’m not sure that she’d be able to focus on herself with all of the other bodies around her. (Okay, maybe that was a jab.)

I’m also not going to bash Jen, because I sort of feel sorry for her. I’m not even going to complain about xoJane (because I already said my piece to the editor who gave the piece the green light.) Though I have to say I was shocked that a black woman read that piece of trash and put it on the site.

The problem isn’t xoJane or Jen or the editor, per se. The problem is unchecked privilege, micro-aggression and the horrible, yet increasingly common, appropriation of people of color.

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2 trainI was completely unable to focus on my game of Tetris, instead felt hyper-aware of all of the brown people on the train.

The 2 Train is an interesting train. In fact, according to Buzzfeed, it’s the 8th  best train in all of NYC. Most people get on and off between 14th street and 72nd street, where I’m sure most Brooklynites or New Yorkers assume it ends. Not me, I live off the Beverly Road stop in Flatbush, Brooklyn with lots of black folks.

This afternoon I was pumped to find a seat when I boarded the train at Wall Street and as I settled into my game of Tetris (damnit I stopped on level 12, so much stress) I noticed a cute, skinny white girl also board at Wall. I couldn’t help but notice her. She had brown curly hair coming out of a knit beanie, a Brooklyn Industries Coat, ironic tote bag, skinny jeans and Doc Marten boots. She kept pushing her Ray-ban eyeglasses up with the her index finger, dark nail polish, chipped.

As the 2 train slugged into Brooklyn and people kept getting on and off I couldn’t help being aware of her presence, especially when she down right next to me.  Her iPod had died, I noticed when I glanced at her,  she was fake listening to music. She didn’t appear to have any reading material and I noticed her leg shake nervously. As we neared Atlantic Ave/Barclays Center I was sure she would get off. But she didn’t.

More brown people got on and more white people got off as we passed Bergen Street and then, at the final white folks get off stop-Eastern Parkway Brooklyn Museum. It was just her. The only white person on the train. When she didn’t get off I couldn’t help but think about her. I was completely unable to focus on my game of Tetris, instead felt hyper-aware of all of the brown people on the train. Her eyes darted around nervously, but remained nonchalant and as the last holdout, a racially ambiguous hipster guy with Clark mountain boots and a Carhart jacket, got off at President I watched her face go from frustration, to shock to compete and utter fucking fear.

It was at President that a group of young black men got on the train and I watched her casually grip her tote closer to her body. Instead of looking around the train nervously she looked straight ahead. At Sterling another group of brown people got on, some of them spoke Spanish. She picked her nails. At Church Avenue a man wearing a huge knit scarf to contain his crown of Locs got on, smelling of pot and patchouli. He lumbered to where we sat and leaned on the pole. She shifted slightly and clutched her tote closer to her body.

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Back for Two Important Cross-Posts

Posted on: January 28, 2014

Every once in a while I’ll check to see what’s happening on the blog.

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for the continued support and readership-even in my sabbatical :)

I will say that I was shocked that my “Schvartze” piece from a few years ago was one of the most searched and read pieces. But given the activity of the blogosphere in the past few days, I can’t say that I’m surprised.

Two blogs, one from Pop Chassid, Elad Nehorai, and the second by blogging newcomer, Zein Shver have been making the rounds on Facebook and Twitter. I applaud these two brown men for speaking their truths. I hope they both continue to share what it is to be brown and Jewish and that the Jewish world not only listens, but opens its collective heart and ears to our many, varied and valid stories.

I Hate This Word and So I Let A Man Write it on My Face

Image by Ganesh Photography

Image by Ganesh Photography

I want to write Schvartze on your face and then take a picture.

I was stunned and not stunned. This is what I was here for. It had to come down to this. I was sitting with photographer Steve Rosenfield, creator of the What I be Project. Steve offers people the opportunity to express their insecurities, by writing them on their faces. After a discussion about myself, Steve and I decided we would write Shvartze (yiddish/german for black) on my face.

Shvartze isn’t Yiddish for Black. Shvartze is Yiddish for Nigger.

Being a Jew with a black father, living in Crown Heights is a strange experience. There is always a strong undercurrent of racism. Jews and Blacks (the shvartzes to use the unfortunate local parlance) have always had tension between them.

Since moving to Crown Heights, I’ve heard the word flow like blessings. It drips out of the mouths of young and old alike. It can be stunning sometimes. You’ll be moving along just fine and then the “S-bomb” will come along and just ruin your day, or at the very least your hour and minute. It’s never nice when it’s said. No one ever says “I had a man do my taxes. He’s shvartze.” Nor do they say “my son is playing with the boys next door, they’re shvartze.” It’s always “a shvartze stole my bike;” or “if the shvartzes welfare why shouldn’t we.” So, this common excuse that shvartze merely means black doesn’t play well with me.

Keep Reading

 

“Why My Skin Color Means I’ll Never Feel Like I Belong”

“Terrorist.”

Image from Pop Chassid

Image from Pop Chassid

That was a word I heard a lot in high school. I’m a sephardi Jew (three-quarters of me is, genetically speaking) and I was living in a very white (but Jewish) area near Chicago. And so the people made jokes, they made jokes in the way guys make jokes in high school, finding out what’s different about you and exploiting it.  Not exactly in a mean way, but in the way that people just did in high school, whether you were friends or enemies.

“Terrorist!” “Where were you last night, dude?  Blowing stuff up?”

Stuff like that. You kind of learn to just accept these things in high school.  You learn that, “Hey, if I laugh along with them, or don’t get angry, I won’t ostracize myself.  I won’t turn it into something they know they can get into my head with.” And so I laughed it off. But the truth was that it bothered me.  But maybe not for the reason you’d expect. It bothered me because I felt white.  Or, at least, I didn’t feel different than everyone else.

My whole life I had grown up in white areas.  My parents grew up in an Ashkenazi (primarily white) area of Israel.  Culturally, I think my parents and I didn’t feel so different from the people around us. I remember my mother even explaining to me when I was young that I was white.  Because it’s kind of true.  There’s no option on the Census for “Middle-Eastern” in the race area.  No scholarships or affirmative action.  Racially, I am technically white; caucasian. But kids, and people in general, don’t care about that.  They care about what they see. And I remember that time in first grade when we had a discussion about race and I mentioned to the class that I was white, as if it was nothing, as if it was a fact… and the whole class started telling me that I wasn’t, that there was no way that I was white.

Keep reading

Now it’s Time to Say Goodbye…

Posted on: December 5, 2013

so long…well at least for now.

Yes, it’s true, I’m going to put a halt on the site. It’s been an amazing experience writing and connecting with so many Jews from around the globe. I have truly enjoyed meeting such amazing people. I’ve loved sharing my conversion process with all of you and processing your conversion processes and journeys to Judaism. I’ve loved debating about race and racism within Judaism and figuring with you how we, as Jews of Color, converts to Judaism, LGBTQ Jews and interfaith families can leave our impression on the Jewish world. While I don’t think we’ve scratched the surface, we’ve done such great work here!

But as you have probably noticed, keeping up with the blog is hard work! It’s not for a lack of trying, but it definitely feels more like work these days and less about my passion for sharing my experience. So I’m going to take the rest of December to think about how I can reformat the blog, think about new content so that I can come back fresh in 2014 with a bit more direction and resources for folks.

Don’t fret, I’m still Jewish, I still love being a Jew and I will continue writing and talking about the need for inclusive Jewish spaces for JOCs, JBCs and LGBTQ Jews. I’m still getting hitched and I’m still shul shopping (again). I just need to figure out a way to breathe more vibrant life into the site. I will continue to Tweet and Facebook, so please make sure to connect with me there. I’m also going to be working more closely with the Jewish Multiracial Network and have been working with my editor at The Forward to start a series about marriage and Jews of Color. Please email me if you’re a JOC and interested in sharing your conversion story (if you’ve converted) or your experience as a JOC.

So goodbye for now. I trust you all had an amazing Hanukkah. Happy Christmas to my Christian readers and blessings for an amazing Gregorian New Year!

See you on the flip side- aka February 2014.

 

 

Happy First Night of Chanukkah!

Posted on: November 27, 2013

Happy first night of Hanukkah, friends!

Tonight, I’m sharing a video by my new FB friend Nissim. He’s a rapper and Orthodox convert to Judaism living and working in Seattle, WA. you can read about his life and conversion on Aish.

Check out his amazing video.

Irrfan Khan_

Answer- It’s not.

Noah, a new epic starring Russell Crowe as the man in the ark, is slated for release in late March 2014. And while the trailer looks awesome and I’m definitely going to see it, I can’t help but notice how fricking white everyone is.

I’m not a militant black person.

I’m not an angry black woman.

I don’t think the white man is the devil.

I have a fairly good understanding of migration and how that factors into the varied races that have spread across the globe.

It’s no secret that I do like to get up in arms about latkes, the prevalence of Askhenazic culture as the North Star of Judaism, flawed population studies in relation to Jews of Color and an inadequate representation of what Jews look like and who JOCs are. But, you can’t take a story ripped from Genesis, which takes place roughly between modern-day Turkey and Iraq, and throw in some white folks. With British accents, at that and call it historically accurate.

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For the past few weeks I’ve gotten to shul and been disappointed. Not because our rabbi isn’t awesome, because he is…it’s just that it’s not quite the same without our song director. I’ve written about Joey a few times and I’d be lying if I said that he wasn’t the reason I joined the shul. I’ve gone so far as to say that where ever he went I would go. Very Ruth. So when I called and found out that he wasn’t going anywhere, per se, he just wasn’t there, I was left in spiritual shambles.

I called and asked the person on the other end who would be leading evening services and she told me the rabbi would. “Well, will Joey be there?” I asked.

“No,” she told me. “Joey’s no longer leading service so that he can spend more time with his family.”

I hung up the phone and felt a huge pit in my stomach. And while I know that the whole of my spiritual fulfillment shouldn’t lay in the incredibly moving niggunim of one man, I felt like crying.

If you’ve ever experienced a Joey Weisenberg Shabbat evening then you know what I’m talking about. For those of you who don’t, it’s like…going to hear the President speak and getting Joe Biden instead. It’s like getting tickets for a Fleetwood Mac reunion without Stevie Nicks. It’s like latkes without apple sauce (or sour cream).

Joking aside, I shed a single tear. Because I know that I’ll have to, once again, find a new shul. A shul where I may have to explain my presence, a shul where I’ll have to prove myself. A shul where they don’t already know my name.

Does it seem a bit much to throw the entire shul away because of a song director? Perhaps, but then again, you probably haven’t experienced the magic that is Joey.

Jewish Geography Project:Toldot

Posted on: November 2, 2013

This week’s parasha is Toldot-when Esau sells his birthright to his brother, Jacob.

Isaac and his family have still remained for quite some time in the land.

Chapter 26
1 There was a famine in the land-aside from the previous famine that had occurred in the days of Abraham-and Isaac went to Abimelech, king of the Philistines, in Gerar. 2 The Lord had appeared to him and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; stay in the land which I point out to you. 3 Reside in this land, and I will be with you and bless you; I will assign all these lands to you and to your heirs, fulfilling the oath that I swore to your father Abraham. 4 I will make your heirs as numerous as the stars of heaven, and assign to your heirs all these lands, so that all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your heirs- 5 inasmuch as Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge: My commandments, My laws, and My teachings.”

6 So Isaac stayed in Gerarbefore going to Beersheba…23 From there he went up to Beer-sheba.

But they’re both in Israel so not much moving around. What I do find interesting is that Isaac sends for a daughter for his son Jacob, just as Abraham had sent for Rebekah, “from among the daughters of Laban, your mother’s brother.” While they are living among the Canaanites, they do not take wives with them. So he sends his servant back to Paddan Aram, modern-day Turkey, to find a suitable wife.

Who Were the Hittites?What I find interesting is at the end of the parasha Esau also finds a wife. Chapter 28 says, “6 When Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob and sent him off to Paddan-aram to take a wife from there, charging him, as he blessed him, “You shall not take a wife from among the Canaanite women,” 7 and that Jacob had obeyed his father and mother and gone to Paddan-aram, 8 Esau realized that the Canaanite women displeased his father Isaac. 9 So Esau went to Ishmael and took to wife, in addition to the wives he had, Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael son of Abraham, sister of Nebaioth.”

Based on this Esau already haves wives, presumably Canaanite wives that displease his parents, Chapter 26, “34 When Esau was forty years old, he took to wife Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath daughter of Elon the Hittite; 35 and they were a source of bitterness to Isaac and Rebekah.” Yet, it would seem that the Hittite people are from the same, approximate, region of Turkey that Isaac and Rebekah are seeking a daughter for their younger son.

So is this bitterness more a cultural or religious bitterness?

It seems unlikely that Esau would marry someone from another religion.

Thoughts on this, cause I’ve always been confused by the “bitterness” piece.

Shabbat Shalom, ya’ll!

Jewish Geography Project: Chayei Sara

Posted on: November 1, 2013

Genesis 23.1-25.18

This translation was taken from the JPS Tanakh

Chapter 23
…2 Sarah died in Kiriath-arba-now Hebron-in the land of Canaan; and Abraham proceeded to mourn for Sarah and to bewail her. 3 Then Abraham rose from beside his dead, and spoke to the Hittites, saying, 4 “I am a resident alien among you; sell me a burial site among you, that I may remove my dead for burial.” 5 And the Hittites replied to Abraham, saying to him, 6 “Hear us, my lord: you are the elect of God among us. Bury your dead in the choicest of our burial places; none of us will withhold his burial place from you for burying your dead.” 7 Thereupon Abraham bowed low to the people of the land, the Hittites, 8 and he said to them, “If it is your wish that I remove my dead for burial, you must agree to intercede for me with Ephron son of Zohar. 9 Let him sell me the cave of Machpelah that he owns, which is at the edge of his land. Let him sell it to me, at the full price, for a burial site in your midst.”..

…17 So Ephron’s land in Machpelah, near Mamre-the field with its cave and all the trees anywhere within the confines of that field-passed 18 to Abraham as his possession, in the presence of the Hittites, of all who entered the gate of his town. 19 And then Abraham buried his wife Sarah in the cave of the field of Machpelah, facing Mamre-now Hebron-in the land of Canaan…

Chapter 24
1 Abraham was now old, advanced in years, and the Lord had blessed Abraham in all things. 2 And Abraham said to the senior servant of his household, who had charge of all that he owned, “Put your hand under my thigh 3 and I will make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites among whom I dwell, 4 but will go to the land of my birth and get a wife for my son Isaac.”

…10 Then the servant took ten of his master’s camels and set out, taking with him all the bounty of his master; and he made his way to Aram-naharaim, to the city of Nahor11 He made the camels kneel down by the well outside the city, at evening time, the time when women come out to draw water. 12 And he said, “O Lord, God of my master Abraham, grant me good fortune this day, and deal graciously with my master Abraham: 13 Here I stand by the spring as the daughters of the townsmen come out to draw water;14 let the maiden to whom I say, ‘Please, lower your jar that I may drink,’ and who replies, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels’-let her be the one whom You have decreed for Your servant Isaac. Thereby shall I know that You have dealt graciously with my master.”

15 He had scarcely finished speaking, when Rebekah, who was born to Bethuel, the son of Milcah the wife of Abraham’s brother Nahor, came out with her jar on her shoulder. 16 The maiden was very beautiful, a virgin whom no man had known. She went down to the spring, filled her jar, and came up. 17 The servant ran toward her and said, “Please, let me sip a little water from your jar.” 18 “Drink, my lord,” she said, and she quickly lowered her jar upon her hand and let him drink. 19 When she had let him drink his fill, she said, “I will also draw for your camels, until they finish drinking.” 20 Quickly emptying her jar into the trough, she ran back to the well to draw, and she drew for all his camels…

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